Saturday, October 6, 2001

"I overheard her saying it was no big deal. But I was thrilled, and I
think she was, too .... It was a surprise -- a really neat surprise."
-- Paul O'Rear, Ashley O'Rear's father

Ashley O'Rear, center, with her parents, Paul and Susan, has been picked to carry the Olympic torch.

  FORT WORTH -- The inspirational story of Ashley O'Rear's determination to conquer cancer impressed the organizers of the 2002 Olympic Games.
  In July, it bestowed on her the honor to help carry the Olympic torch as it passed through North Texas en route to Utah.
  And then came the morning of Sept. 11.
  Terrorists had attacked the United States, even as new tests that day showed that cancer again was attacking Ashley.
  The 14-year-old freshman at Waxahachie High School had been diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor in March 1997, but after extensive treatment, she believed she had beaten it.
  In the summer of 1998, her parents threw her a huge "No More Chemo Party."
  But on that horrific day in September, doctors discovered otherwise.
  "It was totally unexpected and devastating," said Ashley's father, Paul O'Rear, 39. "I really honestly believed she had this thing beaten for good."
  During Ashley's fight with cancer, O'Rear had kept a daily, online journal about his daughter's progress. Realizing that her story had inspired him, as well as dozens of people going through similar struggles, O'Rear nominated his daughter to carry the torch.
  A short time later, the O'Rear family received an e-mail from the event's organizers, saying she -- and her dad -- had been selected to carry the flame on Dec. 12 as it travels through Dallas, Arlington and Fort Worth.
  "I thought it was cool," Ashley said Friday in a telephone interview from her home, her voice groggy from chemotherapy pills. "It wasn't really a big deal."

  O'Rear, a youth minister at the College Street Church of Christ in Waxahachie, laughed at his daughter's nonchalance.
  "I overheard her saying it was no big deal," he said. "But I was thrilled, and I think she was, too. It's kind of like winning the sweepstakes. It was a surprise -- a really neat surprise."
  The O'Rears are among 7,200 people -- about 150 of them from North Texas -- selected to carry the Olympic flame on its 46-state, 65-day, 13,500-mile trek from Athens, Greece, to Salt Lake City. They were chosen because they had overcome adversity or inspired others, according to event organizers.
  "When I nominated her, she was still cancer-free, and we were thinking about what she had been through," O'Rear said. "It is not every day that you see people her age struggling with what she is going through."
  Now that her cancer has returned, being a torchbearer takes on a whole new meaning, O'Rear said.
  "We're not going to give up," he said. "She will carry the Olympic flame and continue to inspire others to deal with their struggles."
  Ashley is currently at home, too weak to go to school or out shopping, her favorite pastime. Her father, who had stopped his online journal when he believed his daughter was cancer-free, has started it again.
  Before Sept. 11, O'Rear envisioned himself and his daughter walking or running together with the flame as his wife, Susan, and son, Justin, 12, looked on.
  "Now," he said, "I envision pushing her in a wheelchair as she holds that torch."

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